pastured!

Can you spot the lady ducks hiding in the grass?1655737_10152199133991448_4193783938692871107_oOur pigs really enjoy the cool shade in their “Pig Park,” where they get to run, root in the dirt and play as all pigs should!P1100883

Our goslings, chickens and turkeys all get along just great on pasture, the little turkeys like to help clean up the broilers’ beaks after dinner.

P1100856P1100851One of our pastured veal calves, Bucco, enjoying some delicious grazing.
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Our hay harvest is coming off the field where we pastured our turkeys, geese and chickens last summer and fall. Our bale yield has gone up considerably because of all the nutrients the birds added to the soil!P1100821

A simple and delicious dinner to make without heating up the kitchen hardly at all: Fresh Duck Egg pasta, amaranth greens (you could use any greens) and garlic scapes (or green beans would be good too) all cooked together in a pot of water for 3-4 minutes, then topped with salty aged goat feta, olive oil and black pepper.P1100809P1100813

Nanking Cherry Seeds after extracting the juice, which is shown in the process of simmering down with apple vinegar and frozen serrano peppers from last year to make an experimental cherry hot sauce. The seeds we’ll save to plant next year.P1100812P1100815P1100889 P1100890 P1100892

 

July is here!

Here we are suddenly, in the depth of summer! It really goes by increasingly more quickly every year, especially when we have a blink-of-the-eye spring like we’re getting used to. While many folks get to soak up summer by going on vacation, your farmers are focused like a hawk on making the most of the short warm weather growing season. This is our busiest time of the year, when we have to get EVERYTHING done before the snow comes. It’s true, winter is breathing down our necks already!

The grass and plants are lush in the pastures, so it’s THE optimal time to be pasturing animals. As they graze and forage, they capture all that nutritional goodness and flavor, and then provide it to us in their meat, milk or eggs. pastured animals are solar collectors! Our hayfield will be cut and baled, preserving 8 acres of green grass and other plants for the animals to bed and snack on over the long winter. Last winter our pigs ate nearly 20 bales of hay in 2 months, and the ducks used about 200!

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Our ducks are SO happy- the wet and cool start to summer is keeping them extremely content and laying lots of eggs. Their eggs taste so fresh and delicious in this mega-green pasture season, and they are SO good for you! We are offering a special price at The Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis this month, so go grab a couple 6 packs and make some duck egg salad or deviled duck eggs! Every 6 pack you buy supports us continuing on here, doing right by our animals and caring for the land. Thank you, thank you!

Exciting news: we will be debuting our Duck Eggs at The Willy Street Co-op in Madison, Wisconsin later this month!P1070843 P1070841 P1100732P1100745

Rain, rain, and more rain!

As far as we can tell from our own experience, the interwebs, and from fellow farmer’s comments, this has been one of the wettest springs ever. Apparently we have already gotten over 80% of the precipitation that we get all summer! It has given us lots of indoor time to consider the strategies we need to put into place on our farm if we are going to continue to grow and manage annual and perennial crops and keep our animals dry and happy – not to mention keeping ourselves dry and happy!

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Firstly we have to consider the flow of water on our property – topographical maps help our design process a lot, but living here for years and watching the flow is invaluable. This year we installed a berm and swale on our keyline and planted nut and fruit trees on the lower side to be irrigated by the swale. This keyline will provide a framework for a rotational grazing pattern that we will use for our poultry and cattle.

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Then we have to consider the flows of water in our Zone 1 & 2, around our hoophouse and buildings that we have created to shelter our animals, hay, and tools. This has proven to be a bit more complicated, because of the energetic flow patterns of our movements in and around Zone 1 & 2 change as we evolve our businesses and activities. In this case, we are beginning to use swales to divert water from roads and away from buildings in a complicated water tango. We use the French Drain concepts in diversion ditches that mirror our movement patterns – this will be a work in progress for some time.

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Now we come to managing our vegetable production systems. We have been growing in three main areas: the hoophouse, the main garden, and the field garden. The field garden was our first garden and it is in Zone 3, and it has better drainage and lower fertility. The main garden has average fertility and bad drainage. The hoophouse has average drainage and great fertility. Tillage with machines in this kind of wet spring is just a hassle at best, at worst it is impossible. Machines break down and compact the soil, and yet we rely on them because the keep our backs from breaking and speed up processes that we need to get done in a hurry as farmers.

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As much as we love to tinker and fix things, our priority is biological abundance here, and so we have come to a couple conclusions. The main garden will stay in operation and we will continue to use it and build fertility there, but instead of an endless tillage barrage we will use mainly paper weed barriers and hay mulch to continuously create soil without mechanical disturbance. This garden is small enough to allow this to be doable – even if we have to spend money on paper or hay products, we should still come out even with machine costs each year. There is a lot more labor involved in this strategy, but it is an activity we can do in almost any weather at any time, without waiting for the soil to dry up. We will be continuously adding organic matter to the soil which will help the overall tilth. We will also use annual smaller hoophouses that we take down in the winter on this garden to protect our tender annual crops from the ravages of insects and browsing animals. These hoophouses will also shelter our young poultry, who will fertilize our garden in situ. We will also continue to use the big hoophouse intensively to grow heat loving crops. The old field garden will be allowed to go fallow next year and we will continue to graze our poultry in that area until the fertility has been built up to a better level, and then we may plant annual crops there again – but not before then.

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These are some of the main insights that we’ve had with these past few incredibly wet springs. Evolving our strategies is part of being a permaculture farm – we are always observing and trying to create better systems that provide an abundance of ecological functions and beauty – and at the end of the day we want to connect with nature and eat good food.